Government 2306

Government and Politics in the Lone Star State

Tenth Edition

Chapter 8

The Judicial System in Texas

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Learning Objectives

8.1 Describe the structure of the Texas court system and its position within the constitutional framework of federalism.

8.2 Describe the roles of the participants in the Texas court system and the procedures used in trial and appellate courts.

8.3 Trace the growth of minority and women judges in the Texas judiciary.

8.4 Characterize the judicial controversies in Texas and their impact on public perception of the courts.

8.5 Describe the legal and constitutional rights of suspects, the classes of crimes and punishments in the Texas Penal Code, and the administration of criminal justice in Texas.

8.6 Illustrate the increased policy role of the state courts with examples.

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (1 of 8)

Texas in the Federal Court System

Texans fall under the jurisdiction of state and federal courts.

The Texas courts have taken the lead in protecting many civil and political liberties, e.g., Smith v. Allright (1944).

More than 95 percent of all litigation is based on state laws or local ordinances.

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (2 of 8)

Criminal and Civil Procedure

Penal code: Defines most criminal activities and their punishments

Felonies – most serious criminal offenses

Misdemeanors – more minor offenses

Civil lawsuits: Involve conflicts between two or more parties

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (3 of 8)

First Levels of Courts

Original jurisdiction

First court to hear a case

Appellate jurisdiction

Review decisions made by lower courts

May reverse decisions or order a new trial

Bifurcated court system

Highest level

Texas Supreme Court for civil cases

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal cases

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (4 of 8)

Municipal and Justice of the Peace Courts

Municipal courts

Judges appointed by city councils

Exclusive jurisdiction of city ordinances

Appeals heard de novo

Justice of the peace courts

Judges elected to four-year terms by precinct.

Original jurisdiction in civil cases under $10,000

Original jurisdiction in fine-only criminal cases

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The Long Arm of the Law

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You or someone you know may very well have had business before a municipal court or a justice of the peace court because these courts handle a lot of traffic violations.

7

The Structure of the Texas Court System (5 of 8)

County-Level Courts

Constitutional county courts

Judge is elected countywide and is head of the policymaking body for the county.

Original jurisdiction in small-fine misdemeanors

Statutory county courts

Relieve workload of constitutional county courts

Some specialize in probate.

Judges elected countywide and must be lawyers

Civil dispute jurisdiction varies.

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (6 of 8)

District Courts

Original jurisdiction

Civil cases with $200 or more in damages

Divorces, election disputes, and slander

Title disputes and official misconduct

Felony cases

Elected judges must be at least twenty-five years old and must have practiced law or served as a judge of another court four years prior to taking office.

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (7 of 8)

Courts of Appeals

Intermediate courts of appeals

Fourteen courts, and there are two in Houston.

Hear criminal and civil cases on appeal from the district courts and county-level courts

Required to have one chief justice and two other justices, but legislature can add more

Elected to six-year terms and must be at least thirty-five years old with at least ten years’ experience

Heavy loads somewhat offset by Texas Supreme Court dispersing cases to all appellate courts

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The Structure of the Texas Court System (8 of 8)

Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals

Highest appellate courts

Texas Supreme Court

Decides civil appeals and sets up rules and procedures

Appoints Board of Law Examiners

Disciplinary authority over state judges

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Only decides criminal appeals

Elected to six-year staggered terms and must be at least thirty-five years old and have ten years’ experience

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Figure 8-2 Map of Courts of Appeals

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Texas has fourteen intermediate courts of appeals, each covering a number of counties. The First

and Fourteenth courts, based in Houston, cover the same area.

12

The Texas Supreme Court in Session

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An attorney argues his legal points in a hearing of a lawsuit before the Texas Supreme Court. The court sets aside one day a week for attorneys’ arguments in cases it agrees to hear on appeal.

13

Participants and Procedures in the Judicial System (1 of 5)

Texas Judges

High and intermediate judges served on lower courts.

Lower-court judges usually come from private law practice.

A solid majority of the state-level judges are Republicans.

In 2015, Republicans held all nine seats on the Texas Supreme Court and eight of the nine on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Most Texas judges are white males.

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Participants and Procedures in the Judicial System (2 of 5)

Prosecuting Attorneys and Clerks

County attorneys

Represent the county in court

District attorneys

Represent the state or county in court

County and district clerks

Custodians of court records

Bailiffs help maintain order in court.

Law enforcement officers’ investigations play critical roles in arrest, detention, and investigation of persons accused of crimes.

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Participants and Procedures in the Judicial System (3 of 5)

The Jury Systems

The grand jury

Twelve-member jury is selected by a district judge.

Typically handle felony cases

Determine if sufficient evidence exists to proceed with prosecution

Hear only evidence provided by the prosecution

Nine of twelve jurors must agree to issue an indictment, or true bill.

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Participants and Procedures in the Judicial System (4 of 5)

The Jury Systems

The petit jury

Juries are composed of twelve members in district courts and six members in county courts.

Attorneys screen potential jurors

Peremptory challenge

Challenge for cause

Verdicts

Criminal cases require unanimous decision and proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Civil cases require agreement of ten of twelve jurors in district court and five of six in county court.

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Participants and Procedures in the Judicial System (5 of 5)

Judicial Procedures and Decision Making

Trial courts

Six-person jury

Attorneys allowed peremptory challenges

Unanimous jury verdicts required.

Appellate courts

No jury

Panel of justices decides the case.

Review lower-court proceedings

Legal briefs

Oral arguments

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Changing the Face of the Judiciary (1 of 2)

Minorities

Approximately 80 percent of judges at district court level and higher were white in 2015.

In most states, minorities are underrepresented because:

High cost of campaigns

Polarized voting along ethnic lines

Low voter turnout among minorities

Shortage of minority attorneys

Texas highest courts: Minority judges gained their seats through gubernatorial appointments.

Gov. Mark White appointed the first Hispanic judge, Raul Gonzalez, in 1984 (Texas Supreme Court).

Gov. Bill Clements appointed the first African American judge, Louis Sturns, in 1990 (Court of Criminal Appeals).

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Figure 8-3 Do Texas Judges Represent the State’s Diversity?

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Texas Office of Court Administration, “Profile of Appellate and Trial Judges,” 2004, 2008, 2012.

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Although minority Texans are increasing their presence in the judiciary, the number of Hispanics and African Americans who are judges is still disproportionately much smaller than their share of the state’s population.

20

Changing the Face of the Judiciary (2 of 2)

Women

Sarah T. Hughes (first woman district judge)

Appointed by James V. Allred in 1935

Texas Supreme Court

Ruby Sondock (appointed by Clements in 1982)

Rose Spector (first woman elected in 1992)

Sharon Keller (Court of Criminal Appeals)

First woman elected in 1994

In 2015, six women sat on the two highest courts, and about 300 women served at the county court level or higher.

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Journal 8.3

Why do you think it took until 2001 for the first African American to be seated on the Texas Supreme Court?

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (1 of 6)

Judicial Activism

Conservative judges with restraint philosophy

See their role as strict constructionists

Narrowly interpret and apply law

Uphold judicial precedent

Defer to legislatures and not set policy

Liberal judges with activism philosophy

Overturned judicial precedents in 1970s

Legislate (make policy) from the bench

Easier for consumers to win civil cases against businesses

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (2 of 6)

Judicial Impropriety

Conflicts of interest

Campaign contributions given to judges by businesses/groups with cases before their court

Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc. (1987)

Increased calls for merit-based appointments for judges

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (3 of 6)

Campaign Contributions and Republican Gains

Supreme Court Justice John L. Hill advocated for merit-selection plan.

Businesses give contributions to Republicans.

Growing Republican and conservative control of the Texas Supreme Court

1988 elections (won three seats), 1990 elections (won a fourth seat), and 1994 elections (won a fifth seat)

Held majority of seats on the Texas Supreme Court

First time since Reconstruction

Republicans won three more seats in 1998 elections.

Controlled all nine seats on the Texas Supreme Court

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (4 of 6)

Legislative Reaction to Judicial Activism

Tort reform

1987 and 1995 laws

Set limits to punitive damages awarded in personal injury claims

2003 law

Restricted class-action lawsuits and noneconomic damages awarded in medical malpractice suits

2011 law

Plaintiffs who sue and lose must pay court costs and attorney fees for the defendants they sue.

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (5 of 6)

Winners and Losers: A New Era of Judicial Activism?

Winners

Doctors, insurance companies, manufacturers, banks, utilities, and other businesses

Losers (won just 36 percent of the time)

Insurance policyholders, injured workers, injured patients, and other individual litigants

Campaign contributions (1995 law)

Judges can receive $30,000 from a law firm and $300,000 from political action committees.

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Judicial Controversies and the Search for Solutions (6 of 6)

Searching for Solutions

Campaign contribution limits

Seek to correct perceptions of influence peddling

Nonpartisan elections

Seek to correct partisan conflict

Merit selection plan and retention elections

Seek to correct perceptions of judicial impropriety

Use of district elections

Seek to correct underrepresentation of minorities

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Figure 8-4 How States Select Their Judges

SOURCE: Data from the American Judicature Society, “Judicial Selection in the States: Appellate and General Jurisdiction Courts.” Updated 2013.

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There is no uniformity in the manner in which states select judges. In an effort to reduce the impact of politics and campaign contributions, many states have moved toward nonpartisan elections or gubernatorial appointments with retention elections. With the exception of municipal judges, Texas selects judges by partisan election. This map shows how states select their appellate judges.

29

Crime and Punishment (1 of 5)

Rights of Suspects

Suspect appears before a magistrate.

Charged

Informed of legal rights to remain silent and to attorney

Bond is set.

Plead guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere

Plea bargaining

Right to trial by jury

Can be waived except in death penalty cases

Mistrial ordered if jury fails to reach a verdict

Verdict must be beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Crime and Punishment (2 of 5)

Punishment of Criminals

Capital cases

Execution is possible.

Felonies

First degree (five years to life in prison)

Second degree, third degree, and state jail felony

Misdemeanors

Class A, Class B, and Class C

Probation (community supervision)

Parole (early release from prison)

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Crime and Punishment (3 of 5)

The Politics of Criminal Justice

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must try to balance the constitutional rights of convicts against the public welfare.

Key players of criminal justice politics

Prosecutors, judges of the trial courts, and the police and sheriff’s departments

Defense attorneys, civil libertarians, and minority groups

Death sentences rejected less often in states, like Texas, where high court judges are elected.

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Crime and Punishment (4 of 5)

Slamming the Courthouse Door on a Last-Gasp Appeal

Sharon Keller, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ presiding judge, refused the appeal of a death-row inmate, which resulted in the inmate’s execution.

Twenty prominent lawyers filed a formal complaint against Keller, accusing her of violating the constitutional due process of a condemned man.

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Crime and Punishment (5 of 5)

Criminal Injustices

Miscarriages of justice occur due to sloppy police work, overzealous prosecution, or tragic human mistakes resulting in individuals being sent to prison or death row.

Many miscarriages of justice discovered due to DNA testing

The state offers monetary compensation to the wrongly convicted but has never admitted to executing a wrongly convicted inmate.

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Michael Morton

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Increased Policy Role of the State Courts (1 of 5)

The Courts and Education

Edgewood v. Kirby (1989)

Texas school finance law violated a constitutional requirement for an efficient education system.

Richards v. LULAC (1992)

Ruled that the state’s system of funding higher education was unconstitutional because it shortchanged Hispanics in South Texas; later reversed

Texas Education Agency v. Leeper (1994)

Ruled that Texas parents had the right to educate their own children

By 2015, an estimated 350,000 children were being home-schooled in Texas.

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Increased Policy Role of the State Courts (2 of 5)

The Courts and Environmental Policies

Water rights: In February 2012, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of two farmers.

The farmers appealed water regulations governing how much water they could pump from a well on their own land.

The court held that groundwater is owned by the owner of the property above the water source.

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Increased Policy Role of the State Courts (3 of 5)

The Courts and Environmental Policies

Open beaches: Severance v. Patterson (2010); court ruled that “rolling easement” doesn’t apply after storms

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Increased Policy Role of the State Courts (4 of 5)

The Courts and Abortion Rights

Anti-abortion demonstration restrictions

“Judicial bypass” for parental notification

Upheld (in Charles E. Bell v. Low Income Women of Texas in 2002) state’s refusal to pay for medically needed Medicaid abortions

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Increased Policy Role of the State Courts (5 of 5)

The Courts and Gay Marriage

In 2005, Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to ban the marriage of same-sex couples.

2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down Texas ban.

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Shared Writing 8.6

Consider the discussion in “Texas Strip Clubs Lose Appeal on Pole Tax.” The Texas legislature enacted the special fee on sexually oriented businesses to raise money for programs for sexual assault victims and for health care. But seven years after the fee was created, clubs had continued to fight the fee in court, and only a limited amount of revenue from the fee had been collected. Why did it take so long to decide this issue?

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Photo Credits

Page 223: Philip Lange/Shutterstock; 226: Bikerider- london/Shutterstock; 228: Racheldonahue/E+/Getty Images; 231: Eric Gay/AP Images; 233: Paul K Buck/AFP/Getty Images; 234: Fuse/Corbis/Getty Images; 238: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-120412]; 249: © The Texas Tribune; 253: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division [HABS TEX,233-LANG,1–1]

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